An IDE, or Integrated Development Environment is used by a programmer to write and test their program code (also known as source code). Although different programs have a variety of features, there are a number that are seen in most IDEs.
Integrated development environments range from very simple code developement programs like Python IDLE, to educational IDEs such as NetBeans and Larazrus, to professional IDEs such as Visual Studio.
The code editor of an IDE is a text editor that shows your programming syntax. Often this will have more features than a simple text editor such as colour coding of the syntax to help the programmer spot errors as they are writing code.
Sometimes, this will also include familiar features like automatic spell checking where a red line will appear under any spelling or grammar errors in the code (although this won’t work inside strings).
A translator converts high level programming syntax into machine code. An IDE will have at least one translator to allow you to run your code and check for syntax and logic errors.
Most IDEs will also have a translator that will allow you to package up and distribute your code, although this depends on the programming language that you are using.
For more information about the different types of translator, visit the High Level Languages page.
When an IDE detects an syntax error, it will often help you by highlighting the section of code where it has detected the error.
It’s useful to remember that the IDE may not always highlight the actual error. In this example, the variable name has been highlighted, but the error is actually the extra key word before it (that isn’t used in Python).
Tip: if you see code highlighted, check the previous line of code for an error.
A breakpoint in an IDE is a useful tool that allows you to pause a program at a specific line of code to check the value of variables.
Usually, a breakpoint can be inserted into the code editor by clicking on the line number on the left. They are generally identified as red circles over the line number.
Steppers are similar to breakpoints as they will pause the running of the code at a specific line, but they also allow you to keep running the code line by line by pressing a specific key on the keyboard.
This allows you as a programmer to check the value of variables at each step of the code (very similar to creating a trace table for a variable).
Runtime vs Development
When we talk about the runtime environment of an IDE, what we are actually referring to is the code editor or the translated code running within the IDE.
In the example above, the screen on the right is the text editor, so this is where the actual source code is written. When the code is run inside the IDE an interpreter alllows the code to run in the runtime environment, which in this case is the Shell on the left.
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